Courts

Monday, March 23, 2020

Newsom, PG&E Strike Deal to End Company's Bankruptcy

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2020 at 6:16 AM

PG&E employees work to replace a nearly 100-year-old utility pole in Berkeley last year. - ANNE WERNIKOFF FOR CALMATTERS
  • Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
  • PG&E employees work to replace a nearly 100-year-old utility pole in Berkeley last year.
In the middle of a pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed off on Pacific Gas and Electric Corp.’s $57.65 billion bankruptcy reorganization plan Friday, after winning shareholder concessions and governance changes that he declared would be “the end of business as usual” for the state’s largest utility.

The company agreed to a number of changes, notably no shareholder dividends for three years and new oversight and enforcement mechanisms to redirect PG&E if it isn’t reaching safety or climate change goals. The utility could be sold if the reorganized company is unable to succeed or has its license revoked by state regulators for failing to meet safety improvements. The deal marks the end of a yearlong battle with a governor who had threatened a public takeover unless executives changed the corporate culture and investors agreed to take a financial haircut.

PG&E chief executive and president Bill Johnson said the company now hopes to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a timely manner. Under state law, PG&E needs to do so by June 30 to access a $21 billion state fund for compensating victims of wildfires, which is a key component of its financing plan.

“We now look to the California Public Utilities Commission to approve the plan through its established regulatory process, so that we can exit Chapter 11, pay wildfire victims fairly and as soon as possible, and participate in the state’s wildfire fund,” Johnson said in a written statement.


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Monday, March 16, 2020

Humboldt County Superior Court Looks to Suspend Operations Amid State of Emergency

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2020 at 4:52 PM

Pending the approval of California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the Humboldt County Superior Court has announced it will suspend operations for the rest of the week in the face of the state of emergency spurred by the COVID-19 virus.

Then, beginning March 20 and extending at least 30 days, the court will look to conduct limited hearings and limited operations. The court's announcement comes after Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming reportedly told the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors she will not be filing new charges against defendants who are not in custody, a policy that will likely extend some months as her office is understaffed amid COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.

See the full press release from the Humboldt County Superior Court copied below and we'll update this post with more information as we can.


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No Need to Report for Jury Duty Today

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2020 at 9:47 AM

The Humboldt County Superior Court has announced that residents previously directed to report for jury duty today should not appear as their "appearance is cancelled."

Those with jury summons are asked to call 269-1270 after 5 p.m. today for further reporting information or to log into the jury portal at here.

See the full press release copied below.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Stapp Sentenced to 11 Years in Fatal DUI Crash

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2020 at 4:09 PM

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Killoran sentenced a 25-year-old Fields Landing man to serve 11 years in prison today, months after he drunkenly crashed his truck into a Humboldt Hill house, killing Robert Beland, 64, who was sleeping in bed at the time.

Ryder Dale Stapp tried to flee the scene of the crash but was detained by bystanders until police arrived.

Stapp pleaded guilty to a charge of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and hit and run resulting in death or serious bodily injury stemming from the June 28 crash. Six members of Beland's family and two friends addressed the court prior to sentencing, according to a press release from the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office.

See the full press release copied below:


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Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Eureka Man Faces 40 to Life For Shooting His Friend in 2017

Posted By on Tue, Feb 4, 2020 at 4:24 PM

Humboldt County Courthouse - FILE
  • file
  • Humboldt County Courthouse
A Eureka man faces up to 40 years to life in prison after a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder today for the August 2017 shooting death of his decades-long friend.

According to a Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office press release, David Kobak was convicted at the conclusion of a three-week trial, which included testimony that Frederick Loftus, 58, was hit eight times, with six of the gunshot wounds potentially fatal on their own.

Kobak, who was 75 at the time, called 911 after the shooting, according to officials, and told investigators that he and his friend of 30 years had been in a fight when he went to grab his rifle and fired.

He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 20.

Read the full press release from DA’s Office copied below:


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Friday, December 6, 2019

AG Won't Take Lawson Case

Posted By on Fri, Dec 6, 2019 at 3:10 PM

The California Attorney General's Office has informed Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming that it will not be taking responsibility for any possible prosecution related to the 2017 killing of David Josiah Lawson.

David Josiah Lawson - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • David Josiah Lawson
"Absent a reusable conflict of interest, the Attorney General's Office generally only takes over a prosecution handled by a district attorney when there is an abuse of discretion," reads the letter penned by Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Laurence. "The district attorney is given broad discretion in prosecuting criminal cases because she is the official who has been elected by that county to act as its public prosecutor. Based on our internal review of the case, we could not find evidence that you abused your discretion in how you handled the prosecution of this case."

Fleming reached out to the Attorney General's Office back in April, just weeks after a criminal grand jury convened to look at evidence in the Humboldt State University sophomore's killing declined to indict anyone in the case. In her request, Fleming maintained that her office had "made the right decisions and taken appropriate actions at ever step" in the case but was asking for the AG's intervention because public perception of her office's handling of the case had been "influenced by misinformation in the public arena from people with legal or law enforcement backgrounds who have been involved with the case."

Lawson was fatally stabbed around 3 a.m. on April 15, 2017, at an off-campus party. A then 23-year-old McKinleyville man, Kyle Zoellner, was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson's murder but a Humboldt County Superior Court judge ruled weeks later there was insufficient evidence to hold him to stand trial and dismissed the case. Zoellner was also the focus of the criminal grand jury convened in February but the jury, in an outcome legal experts deemed rare, declined to hand up an indictment in the case.

Protests followed the grand jury's decision, with some — including Lawson's mother, Charmaine Lawson — publicly calling for Fleming's recall and pleading with the Attorney General's Office to intercede in the case.

The case — currently Arcata's only unsolved homicide — remains under investigation, with Charmaine Lawson and Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn having recently recorded a PSA pleading for witnesses to come forward.

In the letter, Laurence notes the office is "deeply saddened" by Lawson's "tragic death" and offers condolences to the Lawson family and the local community.

"We mourn the tragic loss of Mr. Lawsons' life," the letter states. "However, we could not find evidence that calls for the Department of Justice's intervention in the case, and will not be taking any further action in this matter."

See the full press release from the District Attorney's Office copied below. Fleming's letter to the AG can be found here, with the AG's reply here.


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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Why California’s top court just struck down the state’s Trump tax return law

Posted By on Thu, Nov 21, 2019 at 11:26 AM

gavel.jpg
Many constitutional law experts, former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Republican Party are now all officially entitled to say, “I told you so.”

This morning the California Supreme Court unanimously struck down a new state law that would have required presidential candidates to publicly disclose their tax returns before appearing on the primary ballot.

Passed by the supermajority of Democrats in California’s Legislature and signed by new Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, the law was the statutory embodiment of California’s place at the front of the anti-Trump “Resistance.” It was a blatant dig at the GOP president — and one that generated plenty of national media attention.

But to some constitutional law scholars, the law was also obviously unconstitutional. Gov. Brown shared those concerns when he vetoed identical legislation in 2017.

Trump declined to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential campaign, breaking with a precedent set in 1976 by President Jimmy Carter following the Watergate scandal.

“First, it may not be constitutional,” Brown wrote in his veto message at the time. “Second, it sets a ‘slippery slope’ precedent. Today we require tax returns, but what would be next?”

All seven justices of California’s Supreme Court were similarly persuaded.

“The Legislature may well be correct that a presidential candidate’s income tax returns could provide California voters with important information,” wrote Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointee. But, she added, the state constitution makes clear “it is the voters who must decide” whether a presidential candidate’s refusal “to make such information available to the public will have consequences at the ballot box.”

The chief justice is a former Republican who told CalMatters last year that she had left the GOP and switched her voter registration to no party preference — citing her increasing discomfort with the direction of the Republican Party.

The ruling was predicted by many who watched the expedited hearing the court held on the case earlier this month.

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Saturday, November 16, 2019

Charmaine Lawson Holds 31-month Vigil for Her Son, Hopes Documentary Will Bring Outside Attention to Unsolved Case

Posted By on Sat, Nov 16, 2019 at 10:30 AM

It has been 31 months since Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson was killed.

On Friday, the anniversary of her 19-year-old son’s death, a group of a few dozen students and community members surrounded Charmaine Lawson at a small vigil at the Arcata Methodist Church, during which the group watched Who Killed Josiah?, a short documentary by the Southern California station KCET that they hope will bring renewed attention to the still-unsolved killing. (Find the documentary embedded below.)

31st_vigil.jpeg
The documentary describes Arcata as a town “polarized over allegations of racism and police incompetence surrounding the death of college student Josiah Lawson.” For Charmaine Lawson, the documentary is an emotional roller coaster.

“Watching it the first time was heartbreaking,” she says. “When I saw the documentary the first time, I didn’t talk to anyone for two weeks. I was in another zone — very difficult to watch.”

David Josiah Lawson, a criminology major from the city of Perris in Riverside County, was stabbed to death at an off-campus party around 3 a.m. April 15th 2017. Kyle Zoellner, a then 23-year-old McKinleyville man, was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson’s murder but the charge was dismissed weeks later, when Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholsten found insufficient evidence to hold him.

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Friday, September 20, 2019

Mendo DA Upset to Learn of Former EPD Officer's Past Dishonesty, Will Dismiss Cases that Require His Testimony

Posted By on Fri, Sep 20, 2019 at 10:38 AM

Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster has grave concerns about the Willits Police Department’s hiring of Jacob Jones, having learned of sustained allegations of the officer’s dishonesty during his tenure with the Eureka Police Department.

In a scathing, incredulous 2,400-word letter to Willits Police Chief Scott Warnock, Eyster expresses dismay at Jones’ hiring despite the sustained allegations that he lied to superiors in an attempt to hide “defective or incompetent” police work while in Eureka last year and anger that Warnock didn’t inform him of Jones’ past, leaving Mendocino County’s top prosecutor to learn about them through an Aug. 29 article in the North Coast Journal (“Light in Dark Places”). In the letter, Eyster goes into detail to explain how the U.S. Supreme Court case of Brady v. Maryland requires prosecutors to turn over any exculpatory evidence they have in a case, which subsequent courts have determined includes any evidence of past instances of dishonesty by the investigating officers.

“Words cannot adequately express how disappointed I am that you failed to notify me or, for that matter, anybody in my office of the peace officer hiring of Jacob Jones despite Mr. Jones’ obviously Brady background,” Eyster writes. “Having personally reviewed the Brady materials provided to you by the Eureka Police Department, you surprisingly overlooked what was important therein and approved the hiring of this badly tainted former EPD officer as a Willits police officer. First, I would never have thought in a million years that it would be necessary for me to remind you that honesty and credibility have always been essential traits for a police officer.”

Jacob Jones is sworn in as a Willits police officer June 12. - FACEBOOK/WILLITS POLICE DEPARTMENT. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY JONATHAN WEBSTER.
  • Facebook/Willits Police Department. Photo illustration by Jonathan Webster.
  • Jacob Jones is sworn in as a Willits police officer June 12.
Eyster further writes that he is personally reviewing every criminal case in which his office planned to use Jones as a “necessary and material prosecution witness” with plans to dismiss them unless they can be prosecuted without Jones’ involvement.

Warnock responded to a Journal inquiry seeking a response to Eyster's letter and an update on Jones' work status and duties but declined to comment, saying it's a "personnel matter." Willits Human Resources analyst Karen Stevenson said Jones remains employed by the city, though he is presently “on vacation.”

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

McGuire: Judge's Tax Return Law Ruling 'Perplexing, Premature and Unneccesary'

Posted By on Thu, Sep 19, 2019 at 4:12 PM

A federal judge today granted a temporary injunction to block California’s recently signed legislation that requires presidential and gubernatorial candidates to release their tax returns to appear on the state’s primary ballot.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. said a final ruling in the case would be coming in the next few days but there would be “irreparable harm without temporary relief.”

mike_mcguire-cropped.jpg
The Presidential Tax Transparency & Accountability Act was challenged within days of its July 30 signing by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who at the time said that “states have a legal and moral duty to do everything in their power to ensure leaders seeking the highest offices meet minimal standards, and to restore public confidence.”

Judicial Watch, a self-described “conservative, non-partisan educational foundation” that “promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law,” was the first to sue. That action was quickly followed by President Donald Trump and his campaign and the Republican state and national parties, which filed two separate lawsuits.

North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire McGuire, who co-authored the legislation with Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, described England’s ruling as “perplexing, premature and not necessary.”

“We’re way out in front of any deadline required under the law and the irreparable harm argument is simply not apparent,” McGuire said in a statement released by his office. “I think the judge got this one wrong and a decision as important as this should not have been rushed or the law prematurely shut down.

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